My standard dinner meta-recipe

This is a recipe style I cook a lot for myself a lot. It’s very easy, balanced and healthy, and with only a little bit of effort can be made to be extremely tasty.

It’s… lets call it “Japanese inspired”. It’s not Japanese, but that’s probably the closest regional cuisine in its heritage and it tends to use a number of Japanese ingredients.

It consists of 3-4 parts:

  • A base. For me this is almost always brown rice, sometimes with a bit of red rice added to it to give it a little more variety. I’m obsessed with Tree of Life short grain brown rice at the moment. It’s really tasty. You could certainly use other rices here though. It also works well with quinoa, and it probably works well with most other grains too.
  • Vegetables, raw or steamed. Depends on what I have to hand, but most things work here. Blanched green beans are great for this. Cucumber and avocado are both good raw. Carrots are good raw or steamed. If I’m feeling super lazy then sometimes I just use a cup of frozen peas stuck in the microwave.
  • A topping (this is either one or two parts)

I typically serve this with soy sauce, brown rice vinegar and sesame as seasonings people can add to their dish. Crushed chillies or Shichimi would also likely work well for that

The topping is of course where most of the work goes in, and also what tends to make the difference between this being a lazy but acceptable dish and all of it mysteriously vanishing.

The idea of the topping is that it’s mostly a protein source + flavour. It’s either the something simple like eggs or chopped tofu and an accompanying sauce, or it’s a more integrated dish.

Quantity wise, there should be lots of rice and vegetables and a modest amount of topping. I’d say by volume the bowl should be about 3 : 2 : 1 rice, vegetables and topping. The topping is the center piece of the dish, but the body of it is the rice and the vegetables, with the topping there to provide flavour and a bit of extra substance with the protein.

Here are some toppings I’ve done recently that I think are really good and would recommend trying:

 Spicy Tofu

This is a simple and tasty vegan topping.

  • One medium red onion, chopped into thin slices
  • Three packs of Taifun smoked tofu (I really recommend their tofu, it’s great), cut up into rough cubes
  • Three small red chillies, deseeded
  • A couple large carrots, julienned (cut into thin strips)

This served five people in these quantities.

I then then just fried these for a while in peanut oil – starting with the onions, carrots and chillies, then adding the tofu once they were cooked.

Miso and Ginger Chicken

This is loosely based on this recipe from the New York times.

I didn’t do the ingredients for this very precisely, but it was roughly:

  • 250g white miso
  • 100g butter, softened and partially melted in a microwave
  • Clearspring brown rice vinegar
  • A squeeze of honey (probably 1-2tbsp)
  • A fairly sizable chunk of peeled ginger
  • One egg
  • Some quantity of deboned chicken breasts (it was actually offcuts from a previous meal, so I don’t really know how much. Not more than 500g), chopped into small (2cm ish) pieces.

This served five people in these quantities.

I then put everything except the chicken in a food processor and blended until completely smooth. Afterwards I coated the chicken in it and left it in the fridge for a few hours (I don’t actually think this step is necessary and suspect it would have been fine without, but it was convenient to make this in the morning and then just throw it in the oven later). Finally, I spread it on a baking tray and baked it in the oven at 200C, stirring occasionally and stopping once it’s crispy and slightly blackened on the outside.

This was really tasty and I probably could have made twice as much as I did and it would still have all been eaten.

Peanut Sauce

The inspiration for this comes from Gado-Gado, but this is not Gado Gado sauce (it resembles it, but lacks some of the key ingredients).

Here is my peanut sauce recipe. I recently did this served with boiled eggs, but it also goes well with chopped smoked tofu if you want it to be vegan:

  • A couple peeled garlic cloves
  • A couple red chillies (seeds included depending on how spicy the chillies are and how spicy you want the result)
  • Peanut butter (just use the cheap stuff, no need to be fancy here)
  • Lots of limes, squeezed
  • A little bit of soy sauce

I fry the garlic and chillies in oil until they’re reasonably well cooked then add everything to the food processor and blend until smooth.

There are no standard quantities for this. Once it’s blended I then taste it and see how it is and adjust the quantities if it doesn’t taste right. If it’s not liquid enough, I either add more lime or a little bit of hot water.

“Japanese” chicken livers

I have no idea how close this is to anything that would actually be made in Japan. I suspect not very. It’s loosely based on some googling for Japanese recipes for chicken liver and most closely resembles this recipe, adapted to what I had to hand.

  • A small pot of chicken livers (I think these are 150g? I didn’t measure)
  • One small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp brown rice vinegar
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • Toasted sesame seeds
  • Butter (50g or so?)

This served two people in these quantities.

I mixed all the liquid ingredients together to form a sauce.

I then fried the onion in the butter on high heat until it was caramelised, added the liver and continued frying until it was brown (this took about 30 seconds to a minute), then added the sauce on top and continued cooking until the sauce was thick and reduced, at which point I added the sesame seeds and cooked for another minute or so.

Anything else

The great thing about this style of dish is that it’s suitable for almost endless improvising on because the only core ingredients are ones that keep more or less indefinitely in your cupboard. As long as you’ve got a base and the seasonings, everything else can just be done based on whatever is in the fridge.

e.g. last night’s dinner was the liver topping above, steamed carrots, raw cucumber and avocado as the vegetables on top of a base of brown and red rice. I didn’t start with any plan to do that – I had bought the liver with an intention to do liver one night this week, but didn’t really know what I was going to do with it. Once I decided to do it in this style I googled a bit for Japanese chicken liver recipes on the off chance that I’d find something appropriate, and improvised it into this. The vegetables were then just what we had available.

It also tends to keep quite well: When I’m on my own and short on time I will often batch make a topping (particularly just boiling a carton of eggs and making a large batch of peanut sauce, but this works well with most other toppings too) and some brown rice. The topping and rice can just be heated up in the microwave and fresh vegetables can be done each day to keep it varied.

Anyway, that was a lot of words to basically just say “Hey did you know you can serve things with rice and vegetables and it’s pretty great?”, but you can and it is, and I don’t really see people doing it enough, so maybe you should give it a try?

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